Gota Canal Day 1: Soderkoping

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The Gota Canal (pronounced “Yota” to rhyme with “Yoda”) was named the Swedish Construction of the Millennium. Completed in 1832, the 120-mile (190km) long canal took 22 years to build using 58,000 workers, has 58 locks and 48 bridges, and rises 301ft (91.8m) above sea level. It is a sister canal to the Caledonian Canal in Scotland that we transited in 2017, as both were built by Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford. Together with the Trolhhatte Canal, opened in 1800, the Gota Canal forms a 382-mile (614km) waterway stretching across southern Sweden, connecting Stockholm on the east coast of Sweden and Goteborg on the west.

The canal was built for commercial transport and to provide a means for ships to avoid the Danish-controlled Oresund channel between Sweden and Denmark. The Danes blockaded the channel entirely during times of war, and often levied heavy tolls otherwise. As a consequence, even at monumental expense, the Gota Canal made security and economic sense.

Today the Gota Canal is used solely for pleasure. Around 2 million people visit the canal each year, using a variety of means including in their own boat, a charter boat, canal cruises, bicyle, car, campervan and on foot. For boats, the maximum boat dimensions to pass through is 98.4ft (30m) long, 23 ft (7m) wide and 9.25 ft (2.82m) deep, with an air draft limit of 72ft (22m). We’re fine with Dirona‘s 54 ft (16.5m) length, but with a 16.4ft (5m) beam and 6.6ft (2m) draft, it felt a little tight in the other dimensions.

On our first day through the canal, we registered at the eastern entry at Mem and travelled through three locks and one bridge to moor for the night 25.3ft (7.7m) above sea level at Soderkoping.

Highlights from August 3rd, 2019 are below. Click any image for a larger view, or click the position to view the location on a map. And a live map of our current route and most recent log entries always is available at

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Stegeborg Castle
Passing Stegeborg Castle en route to the Gota Canal. Construction of the castle began in the 13th-century to protect the approach to the nearby city of Soderkoping and it was a Royal castle until the 17th century. Today the castle is a popular tourist attraction and has a 400-berth marina that looked fairly full as we passed.
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The cable ferry Elvira runs the narrow channel across to Stegeborg Castle.
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Approaching Mem and the eastern end of the Gota Canal.
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Moored at Mem
Moored at Mem prior to entering the Gota Canal.
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Jennifer in the canal office purchasing our ticket for the Gota Canal. The cost for a 16.5m boat is 10,503 SEK (1,100 USD), which takes us from Mem to Sjotorp. This includes 5 nights at each of the 21 marinas along the way. We also purchased a ticket through the Trolhhatte Canal for 1,000 SEK (105USD), that will bring us back out to the Baltic at Goteburg.
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Ready to go at the Gota Canal office after purchasing our ticket.
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Entering Mem Lock
Dirona entering Mem Lock, the first of the 58 Gota Canal locks we’ll pass through.
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Mem Lock
The maximum boat dimensions for a boat to pass through the Gota Canal is 98.4ft (30m) long, 23 ft (7m) wide and 9.25 ft (2.82m) deep, with an air draft limit of 72ft (22m). We’re fine with a 54 ft (16.5m) length, but with a 16.4ft (5m) beam and 6.6ft (2m) draft, it feels a little tight in the other dimensions.
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Water Rising
The water level rising in the Mem Lock to bring us up 9.8ft (3m).
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Gates Open
The gates open at the top of the Mem lock and we’re ready to enter the Gota Canal.
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James navigating through the narrow canal. We need to stay in the center, partly for depth and partly because the “bank effect” will suck us hard over into the side of the canal if we get too near. The bank effect is the tendency for ship’s stern to be pulled toward the nearest bank due to pressure differentials (Bernoulli’s principle).
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View Behind
Looking behind as we transit the Gota Canal. It’s really beautiful—we’re having a great time.
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Tegelbruket Lock
Approaching the second Gota Canal lock, the Tegelbruket lock, that will bring us up another 7.5ft (2.3m).
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Entering Tegelbruket Lock
James bringing Dirona into the Tegelbruket Lock. The locks we’ve been through have ranged from “full-service”, such as the Saimaa Canal in Finland, where you tie the boat off to a floating pontoon or mooring point and the lock is operated hydraulically by the lock keepers, to “full-manual”, such as the Crinan Canal in Scotland, where boaters operate the locks and sluices themselves and tend lines attached to a fixed point on shore.

The Gota Canal is similar to Scotland’s Caledonian Canal, where the locks are operated hydraulically, but you need to tend lines attached to a fixed point on shore. A major difference is that in the Caledonian Canal the canal workers attach your lines to shore. In the Gota Canal, the canal workers don’t help with the lines so someone needs to go ashore to tend them.

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Tending Line
The Gota Canal locks all have small docks on either end to drop someone off to handle lines. But in all but the highest locks, Jennifer can get off inside the lock from the boat deck and James can toss the stern line up that we loop back down to the boat. Then Jennifer grabs a bow line and tends it as we rise in the lock. The process is not difficult, but does require good teamwork and communication. The canal is known as the “divorce ditch” due to the troubles couples face in navigating the 58 locks.
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Spitfire doesn’t find navigating in the tight quarters of the Gota Canal locks stressful at all.
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Opposing Traffic
Passing a large Princess powerboat heading east.
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Lower Harbour
The lower harbour at Soderkoping. The space at the far end is reserved for commercial boats, and recreational boats can moor in the area this side of the large canal boat.
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Soderkoping Lock
James talking to the lock-keeper as we rise 7.9ft (2.4m) in the Soderkoping Lock.
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Moored for the night at Soderkoping, 25.3ft (7.7m) above sea level.
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6-Amp Power
The good news is that shorepower is included with the Gota Canal ticket, the bad news is they use a 6-amp service. Previous to this we’ve never seen less than 8-amp service. 6 amps isn’t enough to power our 1800-watt hairdryer.
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A great lunch canal-side at Kanalkrogen in Soderkoping with Dirona visible behind us.
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Canal Worker
Statue of a canal worker opening a manual lock gate.
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Great view from (70m) Ramunderberget to our berth along the canal and Soderkoping in the background.
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The ice-cream shop Smultronstallet in Soderkoping must have amazingly good ice-cream—the wait for a table is usually is about an hour in the summer. Here you can see about two-restaurant’s full of patrons lined up, waiting.
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Rabbit Crossing
Rabbit crossing sign along the canal, surprisingly in English only.
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Rabbit Crossing Start
The rabbit crossing sign is for the artwork “Rabbit Crossing” by Swedish sculptor Eva Fornaa. Here the rabbits are jumping from the north side of the canal to cross to the south side.
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Rabbit Crossing Finish
At the south side of the rabbit crossing, the rabbits already across are helping their comrades from the water. This portion of the statue looks very much like the rabbit statue at Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, but we can’t find any connection between the two.
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Radhustorget, Soderkoping’s town square, with the 18th-century Town Hall on the left.
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Saint Laurentii Church
The original parish church in Soderkoping was erected in the 12th century, but burned down in the 14th and the current church was inaugurated in 1497.
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Goran Eriksson
The floor of Saint Laurentii Church is covered with ancient tombstones. This unique sculpted one is for the Swedish knight Goran Eriksson, who died in 1575.
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Too Big
Back at Dirona, this sailboater is (thankfully) very carefully easying into a spot in front of us that is about 10 feet shorter than his boat. What’s surprising is that they worked at it for close to ten minutes before giving up and taking the 90-foot spot behind us.
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La Uva Tapas
An excellent meal canal-side at La Uva Tapas, where we enjoyed speaking with the enthusiastic and entertaining owner. We’d ordered the house white, 42 by Eneko Atxa, which we didn’t recognize but sounded excellent in the description. Since the house wine usually is sold in greater volume, it’s typically good value, whereas this was the most expensive on the wine list. It kind of caught our interest so we decided to try it.

The owner was pleased with our choice and told us about the award this wine had recently won. And the reason this wine was the “house wine” is because it’s excellent. He also said that he marks up all wines, regardless of cost, by the same fixed amount, so “the people who buy the cheap wine pay for those who buy the good wine” :).

The wine was delicious, in fact so much so we looked it up. In May of 2019, 42 by Eneko Atxa beat 9,149 other wines from 46 countries to win best international white wine.

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Ice Cream
The line-up at Smultronstallet was gone, so Jennifer got an ice cream on the way home. It was particularly good, but we have no idea how people can wait an hour for ice cream.
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Evening Drink
Enjoying the last of our first evening along the Gota Canal from the cockpit.
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